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Reunited with the Pilots: Tina, MacKenzie Frimpong Ellertson team up for final season with University of Portland women’s soccer

Mom and daughter, coach and player join same team after facing each other with Washington, Washington State

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 28, 2023, 6:35am
2 Photos
University of Portland women?s soccer assistant coach Tina Frimpong Ellertson instructs players during a training on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, at University of Portland.
University of Portland women?s soccer assistant coach Tina Frimpong Ellertson instructs players during a training on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, at University of Portland. (Photo courtesy of University of Portland athletics) Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — In recent years they were rivals on the pitch, facing each other on opposite sidelines during Pac-12 women’s soccer fixtures between Washington and Washington State.

But when given the chance to reunite on the same squad close to home, mom and daughter Tina Frimpong Ellertson and MacKenzie Frimpong Ellertson couldn’t pass up such an opportunity with the University of Portland women’s soccer team.

The Vancouver natives found their way to the Pilots within months of each other earlier this year.

In April, Tina stepped down at Washington, her alma mater, after being an assistant coach with the Huskies women’s soccer program since 2020. Months later, she was officially introduced as an assistant coach with UP women’s soccer under head coach Michelle French.

Meanwhile, MacKenzie was in search of a new program after finishing her fourth year at Washington State in the fall 2022 season. First, she committed to Washington in March while Tina was still on the Huskies’ staff. She remained committed to the Huskies after Tina stepped down, but after doing some soul-searching, decided to change course. MacKenzie signed with the Pilots in June as a grad transfer.

Mom and daughter were officially reunited as a coach and player for the first time since MacKenzie’s prep and club career.

The Pilots have a 9-3-2 record, including 3-2 in the West Coast Conference, with three games left in the regular season. MacKenzie, a midfielder, has appeared in all 14 games, starting seven of them.

“I feel like my mom would say the same thing — it’s so easy for us,” MacKenzie said. “She’s been my coach forever. We have a good balance between ‘I’m your coach right now; you need to listen to me’ and then, I go home and she can make me dinner. … We have a great balance, and it’s fun. I’m excited that I got to have the opportunity, for sure.”

Tina, who starred at Hudson’s Bay High School, likes to say she and MacKenzie have taken a path less traveled. They’ve done it together, from the moment Tina gave birth to MacKenzie at 18 and raised her while playing at UW, and later, playing professionally and being a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

“I just remember looking at her when she was little, and (thinking), ‘You and I are going to do something special,’ ” Tina said. “I just knew it.”

After her playing career ended, Tina dove head-first into coaching, including stints with U.S. Soccer, FC Salmon Creek and King’s Way Christian High School, where she coached MacKenzie during her prep career.

In 2020, Tina jumped at the chance to take another step in her coaching career by joining the staff of Washington’s women’s soccer program, while MacKenzie was a sophomore at Washington State, the Huskies’ chief rival in the Pac-12.

Family support made the move possible, Tina said, with her husband, Brad, holding down the homefront in Vancouver and their younger kids, Mya and Mason, plus aunties, uncles and grandparents around to help.

But, playing “musical houses,” as Tina called it, traveling back and forth between Seattle and Vancouver was a grind. When a position opened up in the Pilots’ women’s program, Tina said the decision was a “no-brainer” for her and family.

“Absolutely hard, but rewarding,” Tina said. “We made it through that spell for me to really get my feet in the water of college coaching, and (I’m) grateful for that opportunity. (I) learned so much at UW. So, yeah, hard to juggle it all. But my kids are pretty solid people and we’re proud of their outlook on life and how they managed it, how we managed it.”

MacKenzie had an extra year of eligibility remaining after the 2022 season, and sought to move elsewhere as a graduate transfer. Her initial commitment to Washington was, in part, based on sentimentality, returning to the campus where she took her first steps and watched her mom become one of the Huskies’ all-time greats.

Ultimately, after Tina left the program, MacKenzie said the chance to play at UP was too great to pass up.

“I felt like maybe I was forcing myself to do something (instead of) choosing what I really wanted to do,” MacKenzie said. “I committed here, and the rest is history. It’s kind of a crazy story, it’s a lot. None of it was ever planned … it was day by day. But landing here, I couldn’t be more happy.”

Portland, in fact, was the first school MacKenzie talked to when she was in the process of transferring. She was impressed with the Pilots’ defensive tactics under French, dating back to a 2022 game she played against them with the Cougars, and the overall atmosphere within the program.

Transitioning away from an offense-oriented system at Washington State and learning a new style of soccer has challenged MacKenzie to refine her defense, a self-admitted weakness in her game. On offense, she scored her first goal in an Oct. 4 match against Gonzaga.

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“I’m so blessed that I’ve these new challenges,” MacKenzie said. “ … Frenchie is a genius. Learning her ways and being able to transition to a new type of game has been really fun, but it’s been hard.”

Tina has had a front-row seat for all of those moments.

“I’m so grateful for it,” Tina said after a recent training on campus. “Like, even today, she had a great session and I got to be the first one in line to watch it. As a parent, you don’t get to do those things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the hardest on her. But, it’s been a really special thing for us to be able to come back and have this last year together. Just because I feel like her and I have always kind of been thick as thieves, and have done it together.”

“It’s awesome,” MacKenzie added. “Even my teammates at practice are like, sometimes I forget that’s your mom, like, she gave birth to you.”

MacKenzie is currently working toward her post baccalaureate in the school’s marketing program, and is leaving open the idea of pursuing a professional soccer career if any opportunity presents itself.

After making the jump from the Huskies to the Pilots, Tina said the move has exceeded her expectations. In three short months, she’s learned a lot from colleagues while bringing in a different perspective from her time at UW.

“It just fits me, and I feel like I’m really in a good place,” Tina said.

Tina and MacKenzie’s paths have never been straight, and that’s just fine by them.

“I’m just really proud to show people that life isn’t always going to be a perfectly-knit box wrapped up in a bow,” Tina said. “You’ve got to be able to roll up your sleeves a bit and do something different. I think that’s the biggest message with MacK and I … We don’t need to do it like everybody else. We’re going to do it our way and just come along for the ride — it’s fun.”

NEXT GAME: San Francisco at Portland, 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28.

TICKETS: $21 stadium chair, $16 bench back, $13 general admission bleacher adult, $8 GA bleacher juniors (ages 3-18)